This time, they were able to leave through the gates of their own castle, and keep their feet dry, instead of through that hole in the wall where the river had already flooded, coating it with water at least an inch deep.
There were men standing in the distance, observing. As soon as they emerged, they fled anxiously. Soldiers, it seemed. Their services would be required once again, and soon, but for now they would run, and Gengyo made no attempt to chase them.
The corpses that littered the square – they left much to be desired. If only Zerok truly did exist, and they could beseech him to raise them up, and make an army of the dead, and ask them nicely to leave the square, and jump kindly onto a pyre, so they could get rid of the corpses. Or perhaps go on a conquest through Japan. Either way was fine. Whatever they felt like, really.
They would have to be cleaned up. The whole place would have to be. There were the governmental matters as well. One could not simply conquer and relax. If anything, this second part would be more difficult. This castle, and all around it. Complicated indeed, but necessary nonetheless.
"There is much I would like to do." Gengyo mused, as they wandered over the bridge and leisurely, and along the road beyond.
"Isn't there just? It's exciting, in that sense, but the resources must be acquired, and we must adhere to the proper order of things." Togashi replied, looking at the land around him in the same way as Gengyo. So many fresh ideas sprang to mind – it was a feast for the imagination.
"You can test your ideas and try to improve the way things are run, but you must be careful." Jikouji warned. "If you try anything too outlandish, then it will have consequences far beyond what you intend. That is the way it is with government. As you said to Imagawa – don't aim to make things better, but instead, through your changes, at least don't make things worse."
"There are people starving, as a result of this war. Many men have fallen at our hand, and the hands of others, and many more will continue to in future. Soon it will be time to begin harvesting. That field back in Toyone, it will be enough to feed many. We must look after our people as best we can, and ensure that families have what they need to thrive. There will be talents out there. Geniuses. To have them die of starvation before they are granted their opportunity – that would be a tragedy." Even the idea of it was thoroughly lamentable, and through his tone Gengyo expressed such distaste for that eventuality.
"Stability first, improvement later." Came the words of the old man.
They grew nearer, and could see the lights from their old campsite in the distance, and the many tents arranged as they were. All the servants and members of the baggage train stood around worriedly, not knowing whether there was victory or defeat. All they knew is that the blades had ceased their ringing.
From the perspective of those left behind, the line of silhouettes walking towards them could have been from either side. In the dark it was hard to tell. But the senior members of camp chose to stand fast, and continue to observe, preferring to hope rather than to fear.
"Mother will be worried to death." Rin pondered, just as a normal teenager might, but she was far from normal.
"I expect she will." Gengyo agreed.
"She'll soon cheer up seeing me." Morohira stated, already grinning as thoughts for the night ahead filled his mind. There was a victory to be celebrated, and as husband and wife, they were want to share in that celebration together.
"Miura..?" A voice called out hesitantly into the darkness.
"I hope you have your quill at hand, Matsudaira. It's time for you to go home." Came the reply, as he stepped out from the fog.
"It's Miura!" Came the cry, as the gathered people recognising him, and those beside him that soon loomed into view.
"They won! They bloody won!" Screamed another, overcome by joy.
"YES! VICTORY IS OURS!" Morojo roared to the sky, pumping his fist, not realizing until that moment just how invested he was in their campaign. His sons joined him, jumping into the air, unable to contain their excitement. The gods were good! They were good indeed!
"Rin! Akiko!" Isabella cried out, running forward with tears in her eyes to hug her two friends, catching them off guard. "I'm so glad… So glad."
The two of them shared a look of surprise as they returned her hug. She was a woman that was usually reserved, and so high and mighty. But it warmed their hearts nonetheless. Despite everything, there was goodness in her.
"Tadakata! Rin! Dear! Oh gods, you're covered in so much blood! Are you all alright?" Spurred on by the efforts of Isabella, Fuku soon came charging forward too, struggling to hold her own tears back as she ran up to hug her remaining son.
"We're all fine mother, truly." Gengyo reassured her. "Though many men lie dead because of us – this is not our blood but theirs."
"I don't care about any of that – as long as you three are safe, the gods can take whoever they want!" She declared, hugging him tightly, before breaking free, and jumping into Morohira's arms.
"Ouch." Rokkaku murmured, realizing that he'd been damned by his best friend's wife. Seeing them like that made him realise just how much he himself wished for a woman's company. A sigh and a smile was all that he could do to make up for that now, though.
There was one man, standing watching the proceedings, unable to say the words, his heart frozen, forgetting quite what he should be feeling at this moment. So many years of servitude. So many years of emptiness. So many lies he had to tell himself, merely to pull through. A single desire, suddenly fulfilled, and the breaking of the most suffocating of chains without a stain to his honour.
"Matsudaira." Gengyo called out to him once more, placing a hand on his shoulder, startling him back from his thoughts. "Are you well?"
"I… I am… I am better than I have been for years. Forgive me – I should be jumping for joy like the rest of them, but its so… overwhelming. You reassured me that you would claim victory, yet I never truly believed it. I suppose, at some point, I had come to the decision that the gods had abandoned me."
"Do not apologise. Your reaction is the correct one. You've had a difficult time, my friend, but things should be a little brighter from here. I hope for but what thing: that you will be able to take to the battlefield with a clearer mind, believing in the cause you are fighting for."
The man stared back at him, meeting his gaze, as he shook his head, unable to believe all that had happened. The gratefulness that he felt was beyond expression, but he still tried anyway.
"Thank you, Miura. Thank you, a thousand times, over! I think I will be able to fulfil your hope – there is a purpose now."
"Let us see. The oppression of your people is over. Your clan is free to move as independently as it wishes. I would have you return there, as soon as you wish, to inform them of the good news in person. I will not force you to do anything from here on out. You are your own man, and you can make your own choices. There is no need to rush back into servitude and vows. Focus on rebuilding your clan."
"No, sir. To that I immediately disagree!" He bent his knee to accent his words, not holding back at all, despite the wetness of the ground, and how water logged it was. The mud wormed its way around his knee, and clung to him, the cold stinging. But that face was stern, and serious, devoid of discomfort, as he made his sincere declaration. "I pledge my sword and my life to Miura Tadakata! I vow to serve you until the end of my days, no matter the circ.u.mstances."
His declaration was loud, and all turned to witness it, gentle smiles on their faces, as they beheld a beaten man once more invigorated with strength.
Gengyo held up his hand as he frowned, shaking his head. "Really, Matsudaira – you do not need to make such vows to chain yourself with. Your word is good enough. There might come a day when I descend into madness, and you will regret your words."
"I do not believe such a day will come! You told me to rebuild my clan, and it is through service to Miura Tadakata that I know I will be able to do so. I will follow this path that you have laid for me, and hold my head high when I greet my ancestors, knowing that my clan has arisen to glory!"